The “Day of the Lord” is a prominent theme in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and a dominant theme in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. It is a biblical subject that refers to the coming of the Messiah and a day of judgment. It is both a promise and a warning. In the New Testament it refers to the return of Christ, His second advent, when He will come in power and glory to consummate His kingdom. He will not come as He did the first time, as a helpless infant, dependent on his parents for nurture and protection, for guidance and training. He will not come as the lowly Jesus, born in a stable, cradled in a manger, nurtured inflight, despised and rejected in death. He will come as “the Lord strong and mighty,” the resurrected and reigning Lord of heaven and earth, the “Lion out of the tribe of Judah,” the “Lamb upon the throne,” the object of heaven’s worship, the Lamb of God who was “slain and yet standing” (i.e. victorious), the One in whom the whole creation will be united according to God’s plan for the fullness of time, “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things in earth” (Ephesians 1:10), when we will receive our full “inheritance” (vs. 11), an inheritance that is “…imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for all of you who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation to be revealed (i.e. to be “unveiled” as complete, perfected), even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (i.e. when He comes again, on the “Day of the Lord” – I Peter 1:4-7).
One of the most widely read books in history is Pilgrims Progress, a complex book describing the journey of Christian, who is making his way to the Celestial City through all the dark, difficult, and dangerous places he encounters along the way. He is slowed down, but he never stops. He never gives up. He does not quit. He finally comes to that place where he can finally see, from a distance, the gates of the city. However, before he can complete his journey and arrive at his destination. he and his traveling companion, Hope, must cross a very deep river. As they are trying to swim across Pilgrim (Christian’s other name) is panic stricken and cries out that he will surely be swept away by the strong current and drown. Faced with the threat of death he is pleading with Hope to come to his rescue. Then comes Hope’s reply, “I have felt the bottom, and it is good.” That is a parable of the Christian life, as we make our way toward our destination, which is that “city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” encountering many difficult places before we are face to face with death and see the City of God from afar, perhaps terrified and crying out for help. Then we hear the Lord saying, “I know, I have been that way before,” and it is at that point that we also remember how His followers through the ages have testified, “Do not be afraid, for we have felt the bottom, and it is good!”
We venture into the unknown with this blessed assurance, with this confidence of faith, fearing neither death nor the “Day of the Lord,” for we know Jesus Christ our Lord preceded us as “the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and has gone ahead of us to prepare the way for us and to prepare a place for us in His eternal kingdom (John 14). So the message that comes down to us through the ages is, “It is good! Do not lose heart! Keep your eye on the prize! Fight the good fight of the faith!” (II Timothy 5:7 and 17). Keep pressing on (Philippians 3:12-15) knowing “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore (whenever you see this word in the writings of Paul, be sure you find out what it’s there for), my brothers and sisters…stand firm in the Lord in this way (i.e. in the way of Christ Jesus, on this journey of faith and hope – Philippians 3:20-21 and 4:1).
Hear also the words of the Apostle Peter in his second letter to those early Christians who found themselves in rough waters, “in over their head” like Pilgrim, feeling overwhelmed and fearing death: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any of you should perish, but that all should be saved. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief (i.e. “a thief in the night,” unexpectedly), and then the heavens will pass away, with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for the coming of the day of the Lord….according to his promise, we wait“ (II Peter 3:1-13).
Our Christian hope is not “wishful thinking,” for it has a firm foundation: the authority and reliability of the written Word of God, the trustworthiness of God Himself, and the sure and certain promises of the Living Word, the unchanging Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We know that God’s eternal purpose will certainly be fulfilled with the return of Christ, when all believers will share in the glory of His resurrection, when He who is our Savior will also be our Judge and the judge of all, both “the living and the dead,” and His glorious kingdom will be consummated, and we will “reign with Him.” We are not sure exactly what that means. Perhaps God will give us other worlds to conquer, somewhere in His vast creation, which is far greater than our minds can conceive. The Book of Revelation tells us that His servants “shall serve him there“, so we know heaven will not only be a place of perfect worship, but also a place of perfect service. Until then, we wait patiently, hopefully, and confidently.
However, those who have not believed, who have hardened their hearts against God, who have not bowed the knee to His unique and solitary Son, Jesus Christ, really have nothing to wait for, no certain hope, no real basis for believing there will be no day of judgment. For them, the return of Christ is going to be a big surprise! God will have done all He could possibly do to provide for the salvation of all, to draw His wayward human family back to Himself, to restore our lost spiritual inheritance, forfeited by man’s disobedience to God (in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3). The “image of God” in which the human race was created was not destroyed, but damaged in “the fall,” and the perfect fellowship with God for which we were created, “male and female,” was forfeited (that is the meaning of the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden, and the other consequences of man’s rebellion against God). However, God’s eternal purpose will be fulfilled with the return of Christ, but only those who have believed will be “raised with Christ” and share in His glory. All non-believers will be separated from God’s presence. What a terrible thing to contemplate, but those who take the Bible seriously cannot escape this biblical truth.
To be separated from all that is good, all that is beautiful, all that is lovely – a horrible thought, to say the least. No second chance after death to be saved. If there is a second chance after death to repent and be saved, then there would also have to be a second chance after death to become apostate and be lost! That is impossible to believe. We do not need to know exactly what this eternal separation will be like, but scripture teaches us that whether saved or lost, there will be an everlasting existence of the soul (i.e. the real person, the essential personality, that part of us that has been made in the image of God – not our body, but the spirit, so we can enjoy an intimate relationship with our Creator, now and forever. No wonder the Bible calls the eternal loss of this perfect fellowship with God “the second death.” Just as there is the possibility of “two births” (physical birth and spiritual birth), so there is the possibility of “two deaths” (physical death and spiritual death).
The return of Christ will mark the end of the spiritual conflict between good and evil, truth and error, belief and unbelief – the end of man’s opposition to God’s mission of salvation (John 3:16) – the end of the enmity that has been the cause of human misery, of man’s inhumanity to man, of all senseless violence – the end of all “the powers and principalities of darkness” that have been arrayed against Christ and His Church (Ephesians 6) – the end of Satan, the “prince of darkness,” whose only purpose has always been to deceive, devour, and to destroy (I Peter 5:6-8). Thank God, there is still hope. The time of Christ’s return is known only to God. Every day can be “the day of salvation” for all those who come to faith in Christ, the Lamb of God who was slain for the salvation of all, and before whom all will ultimately stand as Judge, who as David Hubbard has said “will wield history’s final gavel in His nail-pierced hand.” The death He died was for all sinners. He received the wages of sin (i.e. death), which He had never earned, that all who trust in Him for their salvation might receive the gift of everlasting life, which none of us could ever deserve.
That final judgment, the condemnation of sin, Jesus bore in His own body, when He who was sinless was made sin, bearing your sins and mine, the sins of the whole world, that we would not have to be judged and found guilty, but forgiven – by grace alone, through faith alone (Ephesians 2:4-10). This is only true for those who have taken their place beneath the cross of Christ, trusting in His atoning death alone for the forgiveness of their sins, knowing they have no righteousness of their own to offer God. This is the faith we sing: “In the cross of Christ I glory” – “Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand” – “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee…In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” – “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride…Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”
So, sing it out! Sing it with full voice and great joy! Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice! But do not stop there. Share the gospel of love lovingly. Speak a good word for Jesus at every opportunity, with the hope of bringing others to faith in Him. Good news is for sharing, and we have the best news this world has ever heard. It is too good to keep to ourselves. Yes, “keep the faith,” but that does not mean keep it to yourselves! No, give it away! Let everyone know that God’s salvation is a free gift, because the price has already been paid. Jesus paid it all! All anyone has to do is receive it! Then they can look forward to Christ’s return. Then they too can wait patiently, but confidently and joyfully! For all believers know there will be no more sin, no more pain, no more death, no more separation and loss, no more grief, no more tears, and “no more condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1, Revelation 21) – the whole earth will declare the glory of God! All will behold Jesus Christ for who He is, and “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” AMEN.